Use wired networks for Gigabit, not Wi-Fi

Superfast Gigabit broadband is coming. However, getting it at the highest speed involves some planning, including possibly regressing to wired networks.

Use wired networks for Gigabit, not Wi-Fi
Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Thousand megabit broadband is a turning point for internet delivery speeds. Newer tech, such as virtual reality, and the incumbents, such as video streaming, will benefit. Right now, though, only about 17 percent of the U.S.’s population has access to those super-fast speeds, which are primarily delivered by fiber, according to Viavi Solution’s latest Gigabit Monitor report.

Although Gigabit is kicking in, it’s not going to be particularly simple to implement at the networking level, internet metrics company Ookla said earlier this month. Upgraded, wired installs will likely handle the throughput better than existing, now commonly used Wi-Fi, among other things, the company said.

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“Getting Gigabit service and adjusting your set-up to achieve top speeds is harder than you might think,” wrote Isla McFetta, content manager for Ookla, in a guide produced for Speedtest.net’s users. The guide, geared towards consumers and published on the medium.com website, focuses on how to get ready and optimized for Gigabit-speed fixed-broadband Internet.

One of the recommendations Ookla made: 

“While Wi-Fi technology is catching up, you’ll still likely see better speeds if you plug that Cat 6 Ethernet cable directly into your computer.”

McFetta said if the user connects through Wi-Fi, they should sit near the router and be using the latest standards, such as 160 MHz channel, four stream 802.11ac, with its 5GHz frequencies. Use non-overlapping channels for more space. Channels 1, 6, or 11 don’t overlap at 2.4 GHz, for example.

(Attenuation, which is signal dropping over distances, means speeds with Wi-Fi will likely be limited to 600 Mbps anyway, McFetta said.) 

Interference is a problem with Wi-Fi, Ookla said: “You will end up with a sporadic and halting connection with interference nearby.”

Users should also make sure the router’s Ethernet ports on the back are specified for Gigabit speeds and that the router’s CPU can handle it.

“In general, x86 processors are fastest, followed by ARM and then MIPS,” McFetta wrote. Laptop ports must also be Gigabit-spec.

Encryption slowdowns on Wi-Fi routers

Watching out for encryption slowdowns on Wi-Fi routers should be on the trouble list too, she said. Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) encryption can be on by default on some routers. That will slow down the Gigabit experience. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), on the other hand, is frequently hardware accelerated.

Quality of service (QoS) must also be turned off on routers. QoS shapes downloads to stop them hogging limited bandwidth.

“But on consumer hardware, you’re also bypassing hardware acceleration, so all your packets of data have to be inspected by the main CPU,” McFetta said. That drops performance 10 percent for Gigabit speed.

But for fastest results Ookla advises using a hardwired connection. Cat 6 will provide the highest speeds, although Cat5e’s specs should handle it. Also, Cat 6 is less susceptible to crosstalk than Cat 5e. And any wiring optimized for Gigabit mustn’t run parallel to power lines. That’s for interference reasons.

“To achieve the fastest speeds possible, the most important thing you can do [though] is use Cat 6,” Ookla said.

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